The Dangerous Religion of Birth Culture

I’m just two months away from having my fifth baby. My fifth boy baby. Yes, we just like to keep things exciting around here. All of my babies were born in a hospital. I have been induced every time, received an epidural every time, and all of my babies have been between 10-11lb. I’ve said, “Yes,” to every pain medicine made available to me. That’s a little history on me. But I’m not here to defend a particular birthing method. I want to defend something much greater. I hope you’ll join me.

In the beginning of this pregnancy I was most often asked, “Do you know what you’re having?” Now as my due date gets closer I get asked a different question: “Are you having your baby in a hospital?” I can’t count the number of times people have asked me this. I don’t blame them. In today’s culture with so many women having babies at home or in birth centers, it’s a legitimate question. I ask other mamas the same thing. It’s a point of great curiosity and interesting conversation.

But my concern for all of us is that we are stepping into dangerous, gospel-twisting territory. Birth culture is dividing women into two camps: natural and unnatural. Obviously, there is superiority attached to one of those. No mama wants to be called, “unnatural.” So what puts you in the “natural” camp? You can earn points in a variety of ways. You can eat organic while you’re pregnant. You can choose between your home or a birth center, but a hospital is out. If you must go to the hospital, a midwife can gain you back a few points. An epidural will lose you almost too many points to recover from. And a c-section? Let’s just just say your application to the “natural” club has been denied. 

But the “unnatural” mamas can be just as exclusive. They cluster together to defend each other by turning up their noses at the other side:
“I prefer to trust science instead of Google.”
“I care too much about my babies to risk having them at home.”

This hierarchy of motherhood is anti-gospel. Colossians 2:23 says, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (ESV) Birth culture seeks to spiritualize things that are not spiritual. As a result, women in both camps are suffering. Women who don’t have natural births lose a little shine on their Mommy badges. They feel guilty and inferior. The moms who take the all-natural route are also in danger. They ride on a false sense of security that only lasts as long as their perfect track record – and the bar keeps getting higher. How natural is natural? Where do we draw the line?

This is where we get a glimpse into the enemy camp. Satan is the master of decoys. He loves to distract us with a false enemy while he sneaks in the back door with his real ammo. So many moms gear up for the fiery arrows of vaccines, epidurals, and medical intervention. But Satan’s real arrows are fear, anxiety, pride, and finding our identity in something other than Christ.

Recently I talked with a friend who had just delivered a beautiful, healthy baby. I asked her how her labor and delivery went. She said, “It didn’t go at all like I planned. I was so disappointed. At the end, I was holding my beautiful baby and crying because I felt like a failure.” My heart broke for my friend whose birth experience had been tainted – not because she had a hospital birth, but because she had misplaced hope.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (ESV)

Our only hope is Jesus Christ. There is no perfect birth plan. There is no perfect food. There are no perfect babies and no perfect mommies. But there is a perfect savior. If we hope in anything else we will be disappointed. We hope in His power to forgive our sin and we trust in His perfect plan for our lives. His plan might include an unexpected home birth for a mom who planned on a hospital birth but didn’t make it in time. His plan might be a c-section for a mom who swore she wouldn’t step foot into a hospital.

Any mom, whether hooked up to five different IVs or at home in her bathtub can glorify God with her birth story. Hospital Mom, did you miss the window to get that epidural you were depending on? Natural Mom, did you labor at home only to find yourself in a hospital 17 hours later? To both moms I want to say: You did not miss out on anything of eternal value. We only miss out on something if we don’t put our hope in Jesus. We miss out on grace, peace, and joy. We are all on the same side, moms. It’s the side of not really being in control of anything. God gets to write our birth plans. And He doesn’t make mistakes.

Sara Wallace does a wonderful job of taking the practicals of motherhood and relating them to the gospel. I highly recommend this for moms who don’t have a lot of time to sit down and do a big Bible study.” – Jennifer
Get your copy of “The Gospel-Centered Mom” on Etsy!

40 thoughts on “The Dangerous Religion of Birth Culture

  1. This is great! Thanks for sharing 🙂 My 'birth plan' went out the window when I had hypertension at 37 weeks… Your words here are still a sweet and encouraging reminder as my little girl turns one this week and I reflect on the last year.


  2. Even 19 years ago this was a conversation. Following someone's ernest advice for my first baby, I went all natural. 12 hours of unspeakable pain, vomitimg, 4 hours of pushing and a fourth degree tear, my beautiful first born arrived. But I had no joy or gladness, only relief and utter exhaustion – giving her the perfunctory hold before quickly passing her to my husband. Poor baby. It took me weeks to recover physically. After that my next three were born with an epidural in a calm, relaxed, fear-free, pain-free way. Absolutely amazing, after my first sad experience, that this was even possible. Thinking back on the majority of women over the centuries who have delivered without modern medicine, I am so grateful for the Grace of modern medicine and epidurals. 🙂


  3. My plan was to go all natural but in a hospital setting. After 16 hours of labor only dilating to a 1, I agreed to have an epidural. Then 14 hours later, I was told I had to have a C-section. I could see the sorrow for me in everyone's eyes. I had to lighten the mood. Then it hit me. I told everyone, “At least I get one thing from my birth plan.” My doctor lowers his head and slightly shakes it. I continue, “I don't have to have an episiotomy.” The room is full of chuckles and laughter. The mood is lightened, but it took me two weeks to forgive myself and let it go. My next one, I tried a v-bac, but it was a no go. Thankfully, I didn't take that one as a personal failure. And my third child was a scheduled C-section. I say, if you can do it all natural, do it. But overall, do what is best for you and your baby. It took me about a year after my first child to be thankful for the C-section. I started hearing about other mothers losing their baby due to complications during birth, an illness, or other. And hear I had a healthy baby boy whom I was able to breastfeed an entire year. Some mothers aren't so lucky. God is good, and I thank him daily.


  4. Thank you for writing this. Seven babies for me, all in the hospital. I'm grateful for modern medicine which God used to save my life with 3 different pregnancies. I love your words at the end of this post…”We are all on the same side, moms. It's the side of not really being in control of anything. God gets to write our birth plans. And He doesn't make mistakes.” So true! So true!


  5. What a wonderful article. It sheds light on a very real thing: birth culture and the two sides. What struck me is how when mamas share their birthing experiences (myself included) the focus tends to be on the procedures, i.e.: whether or not it was natural or not, how great the pain was, what kind of drugs were or weren't used, how long labor was, etc, etc. I'm just now realizing that the focus can instead be on the magic and beauty of it all: when did i know that I needed to leave for the hospital and how was I feeling, how did I feel when I first saw him, how was my experience with those around and who was my greatest blessing, etc. God bless!


  6. Ah, yes. so true. Wanting to be informed and intentional about your options in childbirth is a laudable goal but our hearts are idol factories, no? I sought out the natural path for #1 but then had a birth that didn't match my original intent. I was so thankful for my healthy beautiful boy but had lingering disappointment, in how things had gone…in myself for not being tougher. I laugh now at my naiveté going in, thinking that I had control over things that I most certainly did not. In that way, it really was preparation for motherhood in general.

    I'm thankful for the gift of perspective that comes after several births. We plan, we aim, we hope but ultimately (and thankfully!) our God is in control. I'm so grateful to be giving birth in an age where we have options and death in childbirth is almost a non-issue. That's something we take so much for granted these days as we get caught up in all these choices that women even a century ago did not have.


  7. I am an OB/Gyn and feel like I am often the mediator for the moms who struggle with their expectations …. sometimes during pregnancy and sometimes after the delivery (especially when it is an unexpected outcome). Mommy guilt is real. I make the joke that I have patients that could probably be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after their births …. not for bad outcomes but for the insurmountable emotional trauma of their unmet expectations. I try to ward this off by talking about birth plans and trying to understand my patients “hopes and dreams” surrounding their birth experience. I am supportive of my patients who want little intervention or every comfort measure offered. I try to explain indications for c-sections. I ask them to always remember the big picture … a birthday party!!! And always … happy baby, happy momma!!!

    Your article is so good! I will be sharing and reposting it if you don't mind.


  8. I will also keep this mind … remembering the magic in the experience and how pregnancy and birth truly are MIRACULOUS events. Focus on what God has done, not how our earthly body or minds; or our earthly friends, doctors, midwives failed us.


  9. I really appreciated this post. It is so easy for us to get off center in so many ways. Many times, when it comes up with another mom that I have had 4 healthy home births, a wall goes up, as though she is assuming I will judge her for her less “natural” birth. It makes it hard to rejoice over the miracle of birth together! The truth is, we had our first at home because we were poor college students with no insurance, and a healthy home birth was God's provision for us. I didn't even want a home birth to begin with! Sisters, let's love one another and not let Satan divide us over something as beautiful and miraculous as birth!


  10. Overall I thought this was a great article. Birth culture can be so divisive but it doesn't have to be. I did two home births because that's what we felt was best for our family. But I feel it's a very personal choice. And I don't look down on people if they choose otherwise. Birth is not a competition. I often don't say I did home birth because like Melissa Rice said, a wall often goes up. Either they feel judged or I feel judged as they tell me how crazy I am and babies are meant to be born in hospitals 🙂

    I was wondering if you could explain more of this paragraph, “The moms who take the all-natural route are also in danger. They ride on a false sense of security that only lasts as long as their perfect track record – and the bar keeps getting higher. How natural is natural? Where do we draw the line.”

    I agree that Moms on both sides are suffering. Are you trying to say that Mom's who deliver naturally think that they're safe but they're not?


  11. Not just labour and birth but conception as well. Women who have struggled to conceive or who have experienced miscarriage will tell you how much control they did not have over their situations.


  12. I just wandered over to your blog from the Risen Motherhood site and reading this post makes me like it already! I am pregnant with my third and get so tempted to anxiety by all the choices and opinions out there. Honestly, I think this whole subject probably started a lot of my battle with anxiety as a mother. I remember reading childbirth books before my first and getting so frustrated that things were so divisive. I wanted to try for a natural childbirth, but so many of the resources I found were so against hospitals and had so much unbiblical garbage in them that it was tough to wade through. Anyway, I could go on and on, but this was a breath of fresh air! Thanks! Looking forward to reading more and checking out your book!


  13. Sara, Thanks for your feedback! I can definitely relate on the anxiety. It's tempting try to alleviate out anxiety by grabbing for more control, when the solution is actually the opposite – acknowledging God's total control over everything. I hope you enjoy the book! God bless,


  14. So good! Thank you for writing this. My second daughter was born via C-section. I was elated and wasn't bothered by having a c-section, all I focused on was that she came into the world!
    That is, until other moms asked me how I delivered. When they found out I had a c-section, each mom responded with a variation of “ohh I'm so sorry.. but don't let down that you didn't have a “natural” delivery.” After I heard this numerous times I became so depressed and disappointed that I failed in the delivery of my daughter. She was born via emergency c-section after 11 hours of labor. The cord was wrapped around her neck. She needed to get OUT, stat.
    Then one mom, overhearing me get “the talk of shame” from another mom interrupted and said something I'll never forget. She said “Honey, unless that baby girl came out of your nose, you DID have a natural delivery.”
    Wow. That stopped all of the comments dead in their tracks. And that's how I responded from then on when women would give me “the talk.”


  15. You hit the nail on the head – the problem comes when we try and find our identity in something outside of Jesus Christ. This principle can be applied to so many areas in our life. The world tries to find identity in a variety of things other than Christ and that is to be expected. But it's wrong when we as Christian's get caught up in it.. I can list about a dozen other things just in “motherhood” culture: Working mom v non-working mom. Organic v non-organic. Breastfeeding v formula fed and so on. We forget what God values – maybe for one mom pleasing the Lord through budgeting is more important than eating organic.


  16. You don't need modern epidurals to have pain free fear free births. And many women with epidurals don't get them. Epidurals are drugs. They can be great, really useful. But they always have risk. Always. They have side effects and can cause harm just as easily as they can help. Let's not put
    them on a pedastal.

    Women like me who champion for evidence based birth, informed consent, and freedom from fear are trying to change a whole culture of birth here in the US (and much of the West) that is horribly wrong. It isn't just about individual experiences– it's about trying to change hospital policy and access to care so that individual women do not have to fight for their rights and safety. Most of what happens in birth- including the way epidurals are handled 9 times out of 10- is not evidence-based and does not serve women or their children, only doctors and even more so, hospitals.

    It isn't about an epidural or not– it's so much more. There are so many things about care during pregnancy, alternative labor comfort measures (salt water injections, hydrotherapy, position change, massage, fetal position change, and TENS machines just to name a few). There is intermittant auscultation and waiting on baby to pick his due date, eating and drinking in labor, having knowledgable support your entire labor (a doula), being around birth and breastfeeding, and so much more that is evidence based and beneficial to baby & mom but is just NOT standard procedure at 99% of all hospitals in the US. It starts w OB care for every woman (viewing pregnancy as a pathology) v midiwifery care (view pregnancy as a healthy stage of life).

    Birth drugs are just a tiny bit of what happens in childbearing– God's grace is truly apparent when a whole culture of birth embraces it as healthy, joyful and as safe as the rest of life, and when women are empowered and supported, not afraid, and don't have their trust in either themselves or drugs but in the Lord… and who get truly good (evidence based) care & informed consent. For a small minority of women that might mean a necessary/chosen epidural, but for most it would not. Just like a c-section; it can be a mercy and life-saving. Or it can be overused and causing harm like it is in the US today.


  17. Actually, birth is more dangerous in the US now for moms & babies than it is in any other developed nation, and it's getting worse.

    Birth gets dangerous from both under-access to care (like in parts of the developing world) AND OVER-INTERVENTION. I wonder if all the moms on here praising the miracles of modern medicine actually gave truly informed consent for them– were they truly told all the risks? Were they given viable alternatives? Were they supported in ways that made alternatives even possible?

    Traditional cultures throughout the centuries had much better birth experiences and a better maternal death and birth rate than we do currently. Yes, some few women died, some babies died… just like some people have always died doing everything in the world including walking under trees or laying in their beds. But by & large they did not. They cared for their bodies before pregnancy, during pregnancy, durinh birth, and after with a long postpartum rest (read your OT Law)… they breastfed for 2+ years and they spaced their babies 3 ish years apart (look up weston a price's work).

    I feel this article misses the forest for the trees and the comments even more so.

    It's not about picking sides in a birth war. It's about our nation's birth culture being massively, objectively WRONG and backwards to the point of danger. Moms & babies die in hospitals daily– and much of it is iatragenic (doctor-caused).


  18. I am a blessed mama who gave birth to two of my babies out of the hospital, at 41 w 3 days each time, no tear, no medication, short recovery, no fear, and each baby was well over 10 lbs — 10'6 and 10'9.

    I did use herbs and acupuncture to start labor and used chiropractic care to get baby in an ideal position for birth. I was very careful with my diet and environment. I knew and trusted every person on my birth team. I left each birth empowered– and while one was almost painless, one was very very painful. I know not everyone gets to experience those kinds of births, and some women do everything “right” and still don't, but there are a lot of things we can do an attitude so we can have them research that should be undertaken to make sure everyone has a fighting chance.

    I'm not sure modern medicine should get the credit most people give it. so often it has to save you out of a pickle it put you in.


  19. I'll add– and all that can include higher risk births too. There are ways that a C-section can be all of those things ( needed, informed, supported, as close to a natural state as possible for mom and baby, encouraging of breast-feeding…). I have seen a VBAC that had a uterine rupture (such a rare event that the hospital and doctors had never seen one before), and into a unplanned C-section– and even then the mom was supported, gave fully informed consent, and looked back with no regrets. She told me later she would have chosen the VBAC again because it was the most evidence-based choice, and she was well supported in her labor and gave truly informed consent for the necessary C-section when it became apparent it was needed.

    The dangerous birth culture war here is not “natural versus unnatural”, it is the current non-evidence-based climate of care women have to endure in the US right now. It actively harms moms and babies. In so many ways modern standard obsetrics is a war on women & babies and that is dangerous and needs to stop. when that happens my guess is we will not have such a divide.

    Look at the birth culture in the Netherlands for example. Or even the UK.


  20. I slept throught the entire labor and delivery of my first child. Yeah! But for the second one, I thought I wanted to go natural. Weeks of childbirth classes with my husband. But my water started breaking the day before, so when I got to the hospital they would not give me anything for pain. Good strong pains that should have quickly delivered the baby. 5 1/2 hours later, pains were still very strong, but the baby was still high in the womb. X-rays showed his heard was too big for my small frame to deliver naturally. So, a c-section was ordered. In those days fathers were not allowed in the delivery room for a c-section. When they got in there, they discovered that the baby was still high because the cord was wrapped around his neck. If they had let me go on with labor, he would have been strangled. God bless modern medicine and I have never, ever felt the least bit guilty. Nor should any other mother. If you can and want to have it natural, well done; but nobody should be shamed or made to feel guilty for using an epidural. Everyone has a different pain threshold. Do what you are comfortable with.


  21. I had 3 hospital births and two home births. I loved the experience of them all and the fruit at the end: a healthy beautiful gift from God. I have been guilty of thinking that every mom should experience “natural” childbirth. But what I've learned is not every mom wants to. Just because I loved my home births shouldn't mean I set the standard of what others should want as well. I personally loved childbirth, both the hospital ones and the homebirth ones. I especially loved what I got in the end: 5 beautiful children. Now I am expecting my first 3 grandchildren. And I shared your article with my firstborn as she is just 3 weeks away from her first delivery. I know she's worried about “performing” for her mom because of my experiences and the pride with which I shared them. I woke up this morning praying for her, that the Lord would be with her, whether or not she goes “natural”, has an epidural, c-section or whatever. The only thing that matters is that she does what she feels SHE needs to do and that God is there with her. In the end: I'll have a new grandson! ❤ Grandson #2 July and Grandson #3 August also need this encouragement. Thank you!


  22. I agree with your stance so much. I don't believe that moms should find their identity in anything other than God. Having a baby is having a baby. But the over intervention of medicine creates higher risks. Let our bodies do what God intended them to do. Understand that birth is hard and no it will never go the way you want. It's a miracle. A beautiful, God miracle. Pray, listen to God and trust Him. If that means hospital, fine. Homebirtb, fine. Epidural or no pain meds, fine. It's all fine! Love your neighbor as yourself and leave out the judgement.


  23. Anyone who thinks ptsd is appropriate material for jokes has absolutely no idea. I had it for real (psychiatrist diagnosed!) after my son's birth. Flashbacks, uncontrollable shaking, crying, nightmares every night so graphic and horrible they are not appropriate for this forum, thoughts of suicide. This wasn't funny, people. And it was all because the hospital (a large city hospital, by the way) ignored what I told them about my history of sexual assault by a pediatrician, ignored my frantic pleading for a female doctor, any female doctor, and insisted I had no choice but the on call ob and anethesiologist, both men. It was a year and more before I even began to climb back out of that hole. So spare me your ptsd humor, please.


  24. What a disappointing, biased, unfactual response. As one of the physicians you obviously distrust and misrepresent, I actually agreed with your overall sentiment, until you started making up facts. Myself and most of my colleagues actually believe the best doctor gives the least medicine. “Not standard procedure at 99% of US hospitals?”, “9/10 times epidurals given without evidence base?”, “OBs think pregnancy is pathology?” Just a few examples of things YOU MADE UP, Eowyn. Sorry, that's actually not how evidence based medicine works, and you throw that term around a lot without seeking to actually understand it. No one dedicates 12 years of their life, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and sweat, tears, etc to “wage a war on women.” What s disgusting picture you paint of us, which is honestly all the more revealing about yourself.


  25. Oh my gosh, Eowyn. Please stop. “Traditional cultures throughout the centuries had much better birth experiences and a better maternal death and birth rate than we do currently. Yes, some few women died, some babies died…” I'm sorry, but were you there to interview those women in traditional cultures throughout the centuries to elicit the comment you made above? And it was quite more than a few women and a few babies who died; you are absolutely rewriting your own historical statistics. If you want to be part of the solution with fixing the system you declare is so wrong, start with real facts so you'll know what to fix. If you did this, you would also notice that some of the morbity and mortality we see now with births has to do with the actual population. Most of those traditional cultures you referenced didn't have the rates of obesity, diabetes, drug abuse, etc we do now. Again, stop doctor bashing as well. I know many a doula directly responsible for mother and infant mortality because they felt their level of “expertise” was sufficient to put other's peoples' lives at major risk to push their agenda.


  26. Mary, so sorry for what sounds like an absolutely horrifying experience. I don't think it was humor as mentioned above. My mother also has very real PTSD related to my sister's birth. It's a real and growing entity. Some, however, confuse bitterness, bias, and being “shamed” after birth as PTSD, but you're right in that it is something very different and real.


  27. I personally feel like it's people like you that put that pressure on mothers that don't have the “natural” birth that society has said they needed. Reading your post, I seems like you are bragging more than making a point. Your lost earlier, you don't know about EBP. Just because you watched some rate birth doesn't make you an expert. Working in this very field that you say we make women do what we want them to do, I can honestly say I don't gave a crap how that baby comes out of you, at the end of the day whatever choice you make its the outcome of mother and baby that matters. Modern medicine SAVES LIVES EVERYDAY!!!! That preterm labor someone's just started is not medically induced, I can tell you right not it's gonna be modern medicine that saves that babies life is they enter this world to early.


  28. Beautifully said. So true. It changes from state to state unfortunately. I am BEYOND thankful for the opportunity at a Vbac after 2 c-sections here in AZ. Something I couldn't dream of in IL. Having worked in mother/ baby care for many years as a NICU nurse I have seen it all. My conclusion is… it is a rare thing indeed when you find an OB who centers care around the mother and baby and not hospital dictates policies and what is the norm where they are. I worked in a hospital with a 40% ish c- section rate when I delivered. I am delivering at a hospital with a 5% rate this time around and have access to things such as midwives, doulas, wire-less monitoring, and support in how I desire to labor and deliver. It is a paradigm shift for me that i am so grateful for.
    My advice to women who are frustrated with their choices or treatment is: 1. Look into the laws in your state. Perhaps crossing state lines is worth it ( women went to WI all the time from northern IL for that very reason. 2. Be informed of what your OB and hospital procedures are as well as level of facilities offered for you and baby should you need it. Ex. Do they offer wire-less monitoring allowing you to move during labor and not confined to a bed. What if your water breaks and you are still laboring 24 hours later? Very important to me this time around. 3. Write down all your fears and concerns and address them with your care provider. Talk them out now not the day of. 4. Be prepared but… prepare to be flexible. Just because most details don't go as planned doesn't mean it went badly. It's your own unique birth story.


  29. I think that there can and should be a recognition of the power of unmedicated birth without the shaming of women who need interventions either to have a safe or tolerable labor and birth. I think you're right that it is an issue about the framing of control, but I think that the essay makes the same mistakes that you are speaking against. The shame comes from a sense that an individual can and should be able to control birth and you assume that women who chose to labor without pain medication seek a similar control. In my own births (which were comparatively easy and normal, praise be to God), the powerful experiences I had came from the experience of surrendering to the process of labor, being brought to my knees, and relying on the Lord for the strength to endure labor and birth. I was left with a deeper understanding of my reliance on the Grace of God. Is there space for a celebration of the blessings of healthy birth, as well as the judicious use of intervention that keeps moms and babies healthy, and the Grace given to women to endure whatever is given?


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